Well hello there!

2015 has been just a downright terrible year for blogging. But it was to good purpose: the first half of 2015 was pretty much eaten up by completing my long-unfinished, long-dormant college degree. With final grades submitted and an “A+” (they give pluses now?!) in my last class, at this point I suppose I just wait for them to send me my diploma. I’m impatient, but I’m trying to get better at that.

(They may give pluses now, but it still didn't really bust my cumulative GPA up to anything particularly impressive!)
(They may give pluses now, but it still didn’t really bust my cumulative GPA up to anything particularly impressive!)

The following has been written, thought over, worked on, and rewritten over the past week. I started it before I even started my final paper in that last class. It is long. It’s a little self-indulgent. And it’s something I very much need to do. I use the term “confession” not in a religious way at all – I seek no absolution here from anyone, and the main forgiveness I seek is my own. In fact I have already forgiven myself for all the unlovely stuff listed below, and more besides that is not for public record. But the act of publishing this here cements a last bit of truth that I hid from myself for far too long.

In the spring of 1997 I really did think I was going to graduate. I thought this without being thorough and careful and organized in my approach to school, but I did think it. So confident was I that I registered to graduate, and went to the bookstore and bought a gown and hood, and I dug out my old high school ring, too. My planner’s mind had advised, when I was choosing a high school ring in 1988, that it would be smart to get a 10K gold ring instead of “Ultrium” or whatever, because the ring manufacturer offered a cash-for-gold buyback against your college ring. The day I graduated from high school, driving away from the Cap Centre with the boy I was almost but not quite not-in-love-with-anymore, I took off that gold ring and tossed it over my shoulder…but later, ever practical, I dug around in my backseat until I found it. I put it inside the small plastic bag it had come in, complete with the detailed printed sticker on it describing my order. In the spring of 1997, I managed to find that ring in that plastic bag that I had had for seven years, and I took it to the bookstore. “Trade-in value” on my high school ring was something like $20 so I said the hell with it and kept the high school ring as a souvenir, and ordered a new (white gold) college ring. I started wearing it as soon as it came in.

Then I went in to have the graduation audit, and found out I wasn’t actually graduating, and basically threw my hands in the air and said “Fuck all this, then.” I failed all my classes that semester. I didn’t withdraw: I failed. I didn’t remember this, actually, until a few weeks ago when I checked my unofficial transcript online before my final graduation audit – there they were, four big ol’ “F” grades right there in Spring 1997 on my transcript. Nice.

Here’s the thing. I had the trappings. I’d bought the stuff. I’d told people – including my family – that I was actually done. And then I wasn’t. And so adding another lie to the pile of them I’d had going about my horrible undergraduate years, I…didn’t really say anything. I told my parents I’d decided that going to commencement would be “too boring.” A friend of mine was having a graduation party for his girlfriend at the time, and was generously also allowing me to get in on that so I didn’t have to throw my own party, so I went to that and drank a lot and talked about school as little as humanly possible at what was ostensibly also my own graduation party.

None of this is particularly pretty, but nor is it the actual titular confession. For years, since I finally decided to be honest with myself and others about the way I slunk away from school without a degree, I have had this narrative: I thought I was done. I wasn’t. The internet economy was booming and I had friends who were getting jobs there, so I left school without a degree, got a job in the internet industry, bing-bang-bong, here I stand before you today etc. etc. etc.

But that narrative isn’t totally correct. I quit my old job, the security job at the City of Bowie where I’d worked almost my entire undergraduate career. I just up and quit. I didn’t have another job lined up. I quit in May and I didn’t start at Digex/Intermedia until late August or early September, I no longer quite recall. I went to a temp agency, and was surly about it, and did one shitty temp job for two weeks and got yelled at by the lady at the temp agency for “not telling [her I] had a tongue piercing,” which I didn’t, I had an eyebrow piercing, and I guess back then that was scandalous even if I was wearing it during the interview and she didn’t notice. But mostly my parents paid my rent and bills for a few months (though I did later pay them back). And that summer quickly sank into an ugly bank of failed memory. I wasn’t keeping a journal at the time, and I believe it was because I couldn’t actually stand to be that honest with myself. I hung out with friends. I drank a lot. Couple things I really remember from that summer, one night I had helped friends move into a new place and we sat around chatting/smoking/whatever for a long time then decided to go to Tracks. I was dressed like a grody frump because: moving. My friends, since it was their house, could shower and put on club clothes and makeup and look stunning, like they usually did, and I could look…like a frumpy chauffeur, which is how I usually felt. I’d helped them move, so that made me feel like I had some worth, but mostly I sat back and felt terrible. That was the night we found out Princess Diana had been killed in a car wreck, too. Something about it just felt horrible and off, the whole night. Sitting in a smoky Denny’s eating hash browns at 3 a.m. and talking about a dead princess. The other memory was going with friends to New Jersey to see Lilith Fair. Don’t ask me why we didn’t just see it locally, some artist or other was only going to be at the Jersey show so that’s the one we went to. One of the friends on this trip was actually a guy I’d been seeing off and on, I wanted so badly for something to work there but we had too much weird power-play shit going on and that summer? I had no money. I can’t remember for sure but he must have paid for my ticket and/or my part of the hotel room. I couldn’t afford that sort of thing and he was a pretty generous dude. So the trip, in my memory, was awful. It should have been fun, a weekend away with friends, but I remember it being terrible and I can’t remember why. Probably because he paid, and I felt beholden and powerless and oh probably ugly and unloved on top of it too, despite the fact that me-then probably couldn’t have successfully managed to love anyone or recognize love in return.

Right. So. Memories from the summer of 1997: few, far between, and kinda ugly. But I did get an interview, and then a job, and started my brief shining career in the early Internet industry, so by fall things were looking up.

That ring, though – that college ring I bought. Since I had bought it and started wearing it before I realized it was actually a lie, and since I didn’t own up to that lie, I kept wearing it. I wore lots of jewelry and I’ve always loved rings and worn them on several fingers, so it was easy enough to do. (Oh! One other positive thing from that summer of 1997: I pawned the high school ring and used the money to get my first tattoo. I was quite conscious of just how Tom-Waitsian that action was.) I used to sleep in my jewelry too (GAH how why!?!?), and when I got my Internet job I started working weird hours and eating weird foods at those hours and I gained a whole bunch of weight and….the ring got stuck. The college ring, The Big Golden Lie as I never actually called it until just now, wasn’t coming off that finger. And it didn’t. Literally. For years it was stuck there.

The day it came off, HOORAAYYYY!! It wasn’t a surprise, I’d lost a little weight, I knew it would be something I might be able to do soon, it got a little looser…then a little more…then finally one day I went to town with cold water and soap and butter and whatever-the-hell and got it OFF. Once again, I tossed it away joyfully. Once again, I was too practical to simply toss away something that cost several hundred dollars. I scooped it back up and dumped it in a jewelry box.

Years passed. I’m not sure how many because I honestly can’t remember when the ring came off – 2001ish? 2002, maybe? Around then. It doesn’t matter. What matters is by some miracle I actually managed not to lose the damn thing. As my 40th birthday approached, in early 2012, I hatched a scheme. I dug out the ring and went to my jeweler in Ellicott City and I handed it over and said “That’s ten-karat white gold. What d’you think we can melt it down into? Anything cool?” He weighed the ring and got out some molds and some stones and we talked and picked over things and eventually I forked over another couple hundred dollars to melt down that particular failure.

That phrase, that’s my roommate’s. Last week, the ring I ordered as an ACTUAL graduation present arrived, and I showed it to her and was talking about my ridiculous need for jewelry-related symbology. As I flapped my hand still bearing the melted-down college ring’s small solitaire, which I wear nearly every day, she said, “I wish I could melt down my failures.” And the really good response that I wish I had thought of right then but of course I didn’t, l’esprit de l’escalier, was “It’s not about erasing that failure. It’s about transforming it.”

New ring, old ring
New ring, old ring

The biggest lie that I told myself about that horrible spring and summer of 1997 was a denial of my own failure. By not admitting failure, I couldn’t actually let myself look at what caused the failure, to see maybe if there were some changes or adjustments I might consider making. Or perhaps if failure to achieve one goal might actually mean I should examine that particular goal more closely, see if it was still something I wanted. Or perhaps dig down to see why – or if – I ever really had wanted it.

All of this is a lot to say: In the summer of 1997 I was in a pretty unhappy place, and I was not 100% honest and cool with a lot of people I care about, but most of all I wasn’t 100% honest and cool with myself. I’ve stayed in touch with, or gotten back in touch with, probably most of the people I knew that summer, and it seems like we’re all cool. I wrote this because I had to admit how very great a disservice I did myself that summer.

At the beginning, I called this “self-indulgent.” Well, yes. It is a personal blog. No one is obligated to read it, but I was obligated to write it. To myself. For myself. I don’t know if I didn’t keep a journal during that part of 1997 because I was depressed, or if I was depressed because I didn’t keep a journal. Both, intertwined, I expect. So with this long post, I promise you I haven’t been not-writing all this time, I have just been not-publishing. I am trying to be honest with myself even when it’s difficult. And I fully intend to come back to this blog, now that I have some more time, and try to keep being honest with y’all. Oh and maybe have some fun!? That’d be cool. Thank you.

6 thoughts on “The Last College Confession: Summer, 1997

  1. Heh, I was trying to remember my life in 1997. Then you mentioned Princess Diana… I was hanging out with Ranj & Amber (and presumably Paul and a couple others) in Amber’s room at the house they had just rented with Alex. Funny how an event with zero direct impact on your life can anchor a memory so concretely.

    Also, your story granted me a brief reflection on my experience with the struggle to complete college. Which I won’t really go into here, cause I don’t think it’s intellectually interesting, but thank you.

    1. Todd, that’s the house I was talking about! You must have helped them move, too! I doubt you came to the club with us…? Or my memory is conflating two nights at that house…but still. Yeah. And thank you for reading!

  2. It is quite possible you guys conveyed the news when you got home from the club? I’m pretty sure someone had to tell us because we didn’t have the radio or TV on, and “the internet” wasn’t a thing people casually accessed from their phones (if they even had cell phones at that point) yet.

    1. That’s possible – I can’t remember when we heard about Diana’s death, but it might in fact have been in the car on the way to or from the club. It’s hazy, but it was definitely that Hyattsville house, that night.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *